Sometimes fate works in unexpected ways! Fire season is almost over again for another year, but the close calls this season prompted me to buy a novel called ‘The Spark’. It’s a fictional story with an incredible ring of authenticity to it because it’s written by a bonafide fire-fighter, John Kenny. Kenny is Canadian, not Australian, but that doesn’t matter because fire respects no boundaries or artificial borders.
“Interesting,” you say with a yawn. “But choosing to read a book about fire is hardly serendipty!”
“Indeed,” I say, with a smirk. “But reading an article by Kenny that describes the reality of fire – the day after finishing his book – is.”
The article in question was written for Indies Unlimited, under the ‘getting it right’ banner. These articles provide writers with much needed information so their descriptions etc ring true. But this authenticity can also be valuable to those of us who have never come face to face with a real fire – in the bush or anywhere else for that matter. Let me give you a sample of what Kenny wrote :
‘The theatre manager told us we would have to leave if we couldn’t be quiet. A group of fellow firefighters and I were howling with laughter as we watched “Backdraft”. Kurt Russell was dashing through a blazing inferno, coat open, boots rolled down and with no breathing apparatus.
Even the rawest recruit knew that in real life Russell would be dead two steps in.’
I remember that movie, and I think it has coloured how I imagine a blazing fire ever since. However when Kenny continued on to describe the smoke in a real fire, all the news reports about Black Saturday suddenly clunked into place. You see, somehow I hadn’t really believed that a bushfire could turn day into night….
You’ll find the link to the whole of Kenny’s article at the end of this post, and I’d recommend EVERYONE read it, but first I’d like to say a few things about Kenny’s novel.
1. It is not some dry memoir full of facts, with the barest nod to story. It’s not a memoir at all. The Spark is a tight, well told story with a great plot that will keep you reading because you won’t be able to sleep until you know what happens next!
2. The characters in The Spark are not action heroes. They are not cookie cutouts. They are not there just to push the story along. Even the most minor characters have depth and personality while the major ones are people you would love to know in real life. Well, maybe not all of them. Let’s just say the villains of the piece are people who could exist, and probably do, but you really, really wouldn’t want to mess with them.
3. The story is not formulaic. Like life itself, the story depicted in The Spark does not have a perfect ending. But it’s the only ending that fits.
4. Despite being a debut novel, The Spark is beautifully written, with just the right balance between scene setting, action and introspection.
In short, The Spark is one hell of a good book even though it isn’t science fiction. 🙂 Read it people!
And now for that link :
March 25th, 2014 at 11:37 am
I’ve been to the Universal Studios Backdraft ride, and to anyone who has had the slightest thing to do with real fire, bushfires, it would be ho hum. It was for me anyway.
You are so right though, we need more real bushfire awareness, even if books like The Spark and Kinglake 350 are put on school curriculums.
March 25th, 2014 at 1:27 pm
Yes! Bushfire awareness should be on school curriculums! Perhaps taught by real CFA or MFB firefighters. I suspect back in the day, country kids would have learned all this stuff almost by osmosis. These days we really need a more formal, structured approach.
March 23rd, 2014 at 11:07 pm
I saw Backdraft with a volunteer fire fighter — although he was a chemist and he admitted that the guys liked him best in the kitchen. I went out with him a few times and the real life/Hollywood comparison/lesson was the most interesting one.
That experience adds to my skepticism in the movie theater and in fiction too. A little solid research goes a long way! (Attention fellow writers)
March 24th, 2014 at 11:12 am
I agree. Authenticity is vital, no matter what genre of fiction we write. Even with high fantasy, I tune out when the laws of physics are broken with nothing more than the excuse of ‘it’s magic’. Even magic should have some rules. 😀
March 21st, 2014 at 1:06 pm
Hi Meeks. I’m so glad you liked the book and the article. Your praise is most humbling. Australia has a special place in my heart. I spent a year there in ’96-’97 on exchange with the ACT Fire Brigade. I still keep in touch with my mates from that time. It was great on so many levels. I even had a small taste of bush fire fighting. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t have to do that over here. It is hot, dirty and very dangerous work.
March 21st, 2014 at 9:51 pm
Welcome, John! I hereby make you an honorary aussie. 😀
And that serendity is still at work. I was serious when I said your article brought a lot of things into place for me. I live in a bushfire prone suburb on Melbourne’s fringe and fire season scares me every year, especially as I’ve never experienced a ‘real’ fire.
I honestly believe we need to be told what it’s really like, what to expect. I wish it was taught in schools!
I write bushfire awareness posts from about November to March every year. I’d love it if you could pop in every now and then and give us some of your experience. 😀
March 21st, 2014 at 12:06 pm
When I was young… I had a fantasy. All these people were on a yacht that caught fire! By some extraordinary coincidence they were all related to me. This meant I inherIted EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. Never happened, though. Bastards.
March 21st, 2014 at 9:45 pm
lmao – awwww… poor Pinky. Or maybe not. You wouldn’t be our Pinky if you’d inherited oodles and oodles. 😀
March 21st, 2014 at 9:00 am
Maybe this is a book that a lot of people in your situation should read to face some of the realities. For that sake alone I hope it’s a best seller. For helping you to see things more clearly and keep you safe I hope it tops the charts.
xxx Massive Hugs xxx
March 21st, 2014 at 10:13 am
I think the article spells out the reality in a more succinct way, but yes, the book is great and I hope it does really well.:)